NBJC Stands in Solidarity with Michael Johnson and Calls for an End to the Criminalization of HIV
Washington, DC – May 15, 2015 – The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the nation’s leading civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, stands in solidarity with Michael L. Johnson, a Black gay man who was found guilty by a St. Charles County, Missouri jury yesterday of one count of “recklessly infecting” a partner with HIV, and three counts of “recklessly exposing” partners to HIV. The verdict from a jury, comprised of 11 white jurors and one Black juror, came after only two hours of deliberation and after just three days of a trial. He now faces life in prison.
“I am deeply saddened, frustrated and angered by the guilty verdict and now subsequent sentencing of Michael Johnson in Missouri,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, NBJC Executive Director & CEO. “Michael, a former state and national champion in wrestling on the collegiate level, represents so many of our young Black sons who are faced with a HIV diagnosis, while simultaneously living in a world that continues to perpetuate stigma and ignorance through irrational, baseless HIV criminalization laws. These horrific laws place the burden of disclosing ones HIV status solely on the shoulders of those who are living with this treatable condition. Yet we know that sexual relations between two consenting adults are not a one-way interaction.”
Johnson was arrested and expelled from Lindenwood University in 2013 after being accused of failing to disclose his HIV status to six sexual partners. Under Missouri state law, all HIV positive individuals must disclose their status to their sexual partners, regardless of whether they practice safe sex or take medication that nearly eliminates their risk of transmitting the virus.
“As a proud Black gay man who is HIV positive, Michael’s case touches me to my core and leaves with me a sense of helplessness. The way in which his story has been sensationalized by the media neglects the human toll we endure in order to feel safe enough to disclose our HIV status to others,” said Isaiah Wilson, NBJC External Affairs Manager. “Michael testified that he did in fact disclose to his partners, but under this law it doesn’t matter because the word of his accusers supersedes his. This is beyond offensive and all people of good will should be able to recognize the alarming problem with the enforcement of these discriminatory laws that disproportionately impact Black men.”
The American Medical Association along with the Infectious Diseases Society of America has publicly condemned laws that criminalize HIV. Countless studies show that these laws are not effective in reducing HIV incidence.
Lettman-Hicks further added: “It must be noted that Missouri is one of 25 states that have yet to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would ensure that those living or at risk for HIV have the resources to receive healthcare to live their healthiest lives. NBJC is dedicated to using all of its strategic advocacy efforts to see that the health and wellness of Black LGBT people like Michael are priorities for lawmakers on all levels of government. The time for direct action on this issue is now because the lives of so many in our family depend on us all working together to see an end to this injustice.”